If I had my way in Iceland, I would insist that they rename this magnificent road something descriptive like “Iceland’s road to natural phenomena”. The sat-nav refers to it simply as One.
Tourists though may know this well-maintained two-lane road as the Iceland Ring Road.
Yet you would have to burn some serious rubber to get all the way around the 832 miles that encircle this sub-arctic island. It passes pretty, snow-capped mountains and brooding cloud-topped volcanoes, eye-watering boiling sulfur mud pools, tortured lava plains, thunderous waterfalls, jagged icebergs, and dozens of glaciers.
And I drove all around it heading north from Reykjavik then returning back there heading south in a mad-cap two-day junket in a dinky Mazda MX 5 icon convertible. Call it a test drive.
First things first in Iceland – Blue Lagoon Spa
Starting in Reykjavik, Iceland’s largest city and the world’s northernmost capital, I hopped into my roadster for a 47km detour to Grindavik to the Blue Lagoon outdoor spa.
I knew a relaxing dip into its placid bright blue mineral-rich waters at a reassuring 38C temperature overlooked by a lava field, and swish under its waterfall would set me up for the gruelling two-day drive. Brilliant value at £40 for the duration.
As a bonus, later when the sky was at its darkest I was lucky enough to see the Northern Lights with its curls of luminescent green. What a prelude for my driving bonanza!
Check out the city church – Hallgrímskirkja
I was behind the wheel early the next morning making my way through this low-rise city where the tallest building is the dramatic Hallgrímskirkja, church, the biggest in Iceland.
I couldn’t help wondering how something made completely of concrete could look so interesting; almost like a spaceship about to take off.
The view from the top of the spire stretches the entire city and is the only place you can enjoy a panorama of landscape and colourful houses all the way to the bay.
A little bit of culture
Sometimes a visit to a museum gives a cultural backdrop worth having and I got this at the National Museum (around £12).
As this is the land of the Northern Lights, I didn’t stop there. I nipped into the Perlan Museum, which at around £26 to enter seems a little expensive. But I did get to eyeball the northern lights planetarium and experience their man-made 330ft-long ice cave – the first of its kind in the world.
Away from city limits – vast isolation and scenery
Stopping at traffic lights with quaint heart-shaped red lights, then turning onto One, the road opened to a shock of a wilderness hemmed by dark, brooding mountains. There were hardly any other cars around and not much sign of human life.
The road snaked through the undulating landscape and sometimes after a swerve or curve a clutch of red-roofed cottages or a lonesome wooden church would appear. Yet with so few people around, I wondered how these houses of prayer could fill their pews.
At times fields would be hosting smallish Icelandic horses – a regional breed that resembles ponies. They were brought here by Norse settlers in the 9th century and are bred to be hardy and used to work the land, race and for pleasure. There were plenty of nonchalant sheep though, who seemed unperturbed by passing traffic.
Within the nooks and crannies of the dark, rugged or moss-covered hills and tors, strings of waterfalls cascaded catching the light on their way down. It’s a recurring feature that adds movement to the stillness.
Bizarre sculptures, such as a giant red chair (taller than a human being) or a giant man randomly turned up to add humour to the bleak vastness.
A glacier on a Snæfellsjökull volcano
Glaciers are a recurring feature along with One. These are masses of glacial ice that look like stretches of white on the higher echelons of the mountains. The most famous is the one atop the 700,000-year-old Snæfellsnes volcano. Fans of Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) by Jules Verne will have read about it as the doorway to the center of the earth.
Iceland’s second-biggest city – Akureyri
Most towns along the route are pretty dull. Not so Akureyri (dubbed the capital of North Iceland) was different. Iceland’s second-largest city had a hint of Monaco about it. With only 18,000 inhabitants, there is no big city vibe, but plenty of visual charm. It sits at the head of Iceland’s longest fjord with colourful homes built on the waterfront with a snow-capped alpine backdrop.
Iceland Ring Road – Iceland’s road to natural phenomena